Thursday, April 08, 2010

RIP Malcolm McLaren

Waltz Darling - one of my favourite albums. Enjoy:

Not from Waltz Darling, I know:

Je ne Regretsy rien

My Regretsy book arrived! Exciting, as it means one less stolen piece of mail (I really should post a photo of the mail boxes in my building - it's a postal buffet) and a recap of some of the best laughs courtesy of April Winchell/Helen Killer over the past six months or so. I still covet the hummingbird feeder hat on the cover.

It needs to be said that Regretsy isn't all about taking the piss at others' expense. From the outset charity has been integral to Regretsy so please consider buying your next gift from the site's Zazzle store. I love that even an accusation about blankets killing babies becomes an opportunity for further charity.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lifecycles at UTS

Sydneysiders, today (I think - I'm lost in time zones) UTS is hosting Lifecycles, a seminar on sustainable fashion organized by Professor of Advanced Textiles, Marie O'Mahony. And what a line-up!

Jon Lewis was my photography teacher way back in 1997 and he would probably be horrified to know I still occasionally hold a camera. A truly inspirational man, though, and a co-founder of Greenpeace Australia.

I met Bronwyn Darlington while working on a project with Grant Young. A pioneer of sustainable fashion in Sydney; so sorry to miss her talk.

Alison Gwilt - I don't need to explain. We continue working together on Fashioning Now; the book is coming together very well. I will be able to post details soon.

Mark Liu, a UTS and CSM graduate and a zero-waste designer. It's good to know that despite my leaving zero-waste is getting talked about at UTS. It feels like a circle closing, kind of. I started my PhD on zero-waste fashion design in 2004 when Mark was finishing his undergraduate collection at UTS and was delighted to hear he'd later taken it up for his MA at CSM. I do have reservations, however, about whoever wrote some of the press releases about Mark's work around 2007/2008, with claims that didn't hold. Also, at times certain sections of those releases read somewhat similar to the paper I presented in Denmark in 2005 but the paper wasn't ever acknowledged in those. Dear PR folks, it's good practice to cite your sources and give credit where credit is due. Anyhow, this is very short notice; I believe the talk is at 9am this morning. Attend if you can!

Junky Styling: Salvage, Sustainability and Fashion

I've reported on last night's fantastic discussion with Annika and Kerry from Junky Styling elsewhere. It was truly inspiring; I left wanting to set up my sewing machine straight away and get my hands dirty. The book Junky Styling: Wardrobe Surgeryis worth every cent, too.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Secret Shop Demolition and Sample Sale

Sydneysiders, this is a must visit for you over the next three days. Over the past eighteen months the building has been a true hub of creativity, with Marsu Homme, George Plionis jewellery (both forming a crucial part of my tiny NY wardrobe), Jane Pollard jewellery and Friedrich Gray all under one roof. It has come to an end. As part of the UTS City Campus Masterplan, the somewhat-heritage-listed building is getting demolished to make way for progress. I enjoyed several nights at the Secret Shop, followed by early-morning dinners in Chinatown - Zoe, I miss you. It will be fun so go.

CutPrint = JR + JR

New Yorkers, save the dates June 11th and 12th: Julian Roberts will be teaming up with JR Campbell from Kent State University for the NY leg of Julian's Subtraction Cutting Tour. Sandra Ericson from the Center for Pattern Design has more details. I'll post here, too, as things firm up. Being in Australia, I missed Julian's 2008 tour so very excited to be here for this! Yes, Julian's website is only open on Wednesdays, which in this age of instant gratification is a nice reminder for us to slow down a bit. Check it out tomorrow.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

My magazine subscriptions

One point I left out yesterday was a comment Maria Cornejo made about fashion magazines feeling alienating; she said she subscribes to the National Geographic and Architectural Digest. It was a privilege to have a subscription to National Geographic throughout my childhood - thanks dad; something I'll likely renew later this year as life in NY settles down. Guess which one magazine I bought during last week's trip to Taipei? That's right:

Make no mistake; I love fashion magazines, even if I don't buy them with the frequency I did some years ago. Anyhow, during the move, I redirected the three subscriptions I had back in Australia to New York. This may or not surprise. The first:

Emu is a peer-reviewed journal but somewhat thin on fashion content. Emu is published by CSIRO and I opt for it as part of my Birds Australia membership. Likewise with the two that follow:

World Birdwatch is published by Birdlife International, a conservation organization that works closely with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IUCN is behind the classification system of conservation need of each species on the planet; Birdlife International looks after this where it comes to the class Aves, better known as birds. The classification ranges from Least Concern (LC) to Near Threatened (NT) to Vulnerable (VU) to Endangered (EN) to Critically Endangered (CR) (with a subcategory of Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)) to Extinct in the Wild (EW) to Extinct (EX). The last three are depressing for sure. Take the Po-ouli, (or Po'ouli) for example. The last known individual bird died in 2004 and although for the moment the species hasn't been declared extinct, it's safe to assume it is. Gone forever. A while back a student suggested that cloning will reverse extinction (this came after my 15-minute monologue, during a meeting about a fashion design project, about the dire straits of birds in New Zealand and Hawaii). I have difficulty in agreeing. Cloning an individual dead animal may well be possible but then what? An individual does not a viable population make. Sure, some species are less prone to inbreeding problems: all Black Robins in New Zealand descend from one female and to date there have been minimal problems with the thankfully increasing population. Contrast that with the Whooping Crane. Down to 15 birds in 1941, there are now more than 500 in the wild and captivity combined. A fantastic blog from Operation Migration documents the captive breeding efforts each spring (the new season is almost upon us) and each year there are chicks with deformities and other problems; almost certainly a result of all the birds descending from a likely eight individuals. This is no criticism of the captive breeding effort - truly, the various stakeholders working towards saving Whoopers do an incredible job - but a reminder that once a population has experienced a bottleneck, inbreeding problems are likely. So, I'm not convinced that cloning will ever be a viable solution even if in some cases it may be a possibility. Maybe the Pyrenean Ibex, eventually.

Um, I did have a point. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. It's a year to celebrate the tireless work by Operation Migration, the International Crane Foundation, the Kakapo Recovery Program, and countless other organizations working to conserve what is left. It's also a year to remember what has been lost for eternity. Back in 1999, I did a project based around the current extinction wave, and it pains me to say that things are worse now than they were 11 years ago. Nevertheless, projects like Operation Migration and the Kakapo Recovery Program provide hope and optimism for the future. Thank you.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Voices in American Fashion at Cooper-Hewitt

Last night was a true privilege. First , Sarah Scaturro, a textile conservator at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, gave me a private tour of Design USA: Contemporary Innovation. Sunday is your last chance to see it so go! And why does Sarah's name ring a bell? With Francesca Granata, she curated the beautiful Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion. She also contributed a paper to the special issue of Fashion Theory dedicated to sustainability in December 2008. And more. Thank you, Sarah; such a delight to meet you properly, and thank you for the look-see!

Then, Voices in American Fashion (video above), an event organized by the Cooper-Hewitt with Yeohlee Teng, Maria Cornejo and Francisco Costa. The panel was moderated by Washington Post Style Editor Robin Givhan - she did a tremendous job. The discussion topics ranged quite broadly, keeping the audience focused throughout the 90 minutes. What follows is based on my somewhat disjointed notes, which some of you may have seen. You see, earlier today I was working on this post, had to stop, went to save and instead pressed publish. Oops! I wouldn't care so much but the published draft still appears on my Google Reader, despite me deleting it nine hours ago. Anyway, here goes, and not necessarily in the order it occurred, as is clear from the video above. Oh and as anyone with Google Reader would know, yes I did use the loo at the same time as Francisco Costa. Truly my greatest fashion moment yet. There may have been a compliment about one of the panelist's legs in the notes, too. Please ignore such forwardness.

There was talk of model size. Francisco made a point that using 'real' women would probably be good for business as less adaptation would be necessary to take the sample patterns to production. Yeohlee provided a reality check by saying that showing a collection with variation in sizes would be more expensive because of the extra time required for fittings and pattern changes; anyone who has ever done a show knows this. Using models in one size is incredibly efficient as much as it doesn't reflect reality. Most of us evil fashion designers know this is not perfect but it is how it is. Creating the sample collection is stressful and complex enough without an extra criterion so kudos to every designer who has ever experimented with this. Maria said that fashion editors don't want too much reality on the runway. When in her first show she used 'real' women with only one model, the response wasn't great. She's used the same fit model for nine years, by the way. I love that; Materialbyproduct back in Australia are on a similar journey. Maria's point about the conventional seams (sides, shoulders and so forth) defining the body so much when each body is different was fantastic. Fashion students everywhere, take heed.

Organisers of the L'Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival, take note. Francisco Costa paid a huge compliment to you, by describing what you do. His point basically was that showing the public what is in store now is great for business. "A trunk show?", a colleague whispered to me. "A trunk show that looks like fashion week" was my response. I'm not sure how Costa's Aussie adventure came about but Malcolm Carfrae, the Executive Vice President of Global Communications at Calvin Klein Inc. is Australian and was in the audience at the Cooper-Hewitt. Costa's comment and the discussion that followed reminded me of what Donna Karan was saying at the talk at Parsons, about the distance in time between showing the collections and when the garments actually hit retail. As Maria said last night, by the time clothes arrive at retail they are so overexposed - magazines and blogs tend to shoot the same things - that they seem old.

Sustainability was a big part of the night's discussion, explicitly and less so. Here's what I've thought for a long time (and this came through in the discussion and I had a chat with Sarah about it on the subway after, too): the three designers address sustainability in their work in a profound way, even if it may be easier to grasp with Zero + Maria Cornejo and Yeohlee. If you were to buy a piece from any of the three tomorrow, more than likely you could wear it in five, ten years from now without your appearance screaming Spring 2010. These designers create things to last; not just physically but aesthetically as well. The dress from Costa in the exhibition was a beautiful example of this; the cut was ingenious yet so simple you missed it at first. All three talked about designing clothes that complement and work with ones from previous seasons. Robin asked a great question, about how does a designer reconcile with trying to create desire for things people don't have yet. Maria did note how there is just too much stuff out there, this time reminding me of Julie Gilhart at the Pratt talk. The idea that as much as we're living in a financial crisis, we're living in a moral one, came up more than once. Sure, it would be easy to dismiss a group of fashion designers getting into a 'trendy' topic but all three showed a genuine concern, a cause for much personal hope.

Yeohlee brought up her dedication to zero-waste a number of times, and it was great to hear, considering how many fashion students were in the audience. She said it's fun - "what the heck!" Go for it, dear reader - it truly is liberating. On a personal note, I've always loved an interviewee that begins to interview the interviewer - it's an entertaining change in dynamics. Yeohlee called time the ultimate luxury: "if you design something really well, you save time for the client". She regards her sarongs - a repeating motif throughout her collections - her most successful designs: sarongs are versatile, (in Yeohlee's case) zero-waste, one-size-fits-all, unisex and so forth - a true Yeohlee leitmotif. When designing, she asks,"How many wears will the client get out of this?" Yeohlee stated she wants people to wear her clothes to death, quipping that Susan Sontag was buried in Yeohlee. She brought the house down.

One final point that I will dedicate some space to is the idea of local. I'm professionally involved in a project, Sidewalk Catwalk, with the Fashion Center BID; although new to New York, I do believe in preserving local skills, knowledge, employment, networks and culture. Not preservation in the sense of turning something into a museum exhibit, but preservation in the sense of helping a community to adapt and eventually flourish again. Yeohlee is passionate in this respect. Last night she passed me a flyer for 'Made in Midtown', "a look at the Garment District, its relationship to the fashion industry, and what it takes for creative industry to survive - and thrive - in New York City". She mentioned an open directory that's in the works to help businesses connect with whom they need to. Another step away from the paranoia and secrecy of old. So, while Zero + Maria Cornejo knitwear used to be manufactured in New Jersey and is now made in Hong Kong because the kinds of manufacturers the company needs no longer exists here, perhaps the situation will change one day. I do need to clarify that by no means do I object to off-shore manufacturing - it wouldn't be realistic anyway - but the loss of local skills and knowledge is a concern, and an economic loss in the long term, too. With the price of clothes as low as it is, however, I don't know how we will ever re-educate consumers that locally made will also cost more - at least as long as off-shore means countries with cheaper labour costs. Who knows, one day there won't be a division between a developing and a developed world. Who will make our clothes then?

I really could go on - my notes do - but the video is up above so please take the time to watch it. And what happened next? As it turned out, Sarah and I had a shared engagement: Caroline Priebe's rodeo-rich birthday. An amazing night, all in all. Thank you and congratulations to the Cooper-Hewitt, and thank you to the four people on the panel for their generosity.